THE resumption of the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) after a five-year hiatus has been welcomed at a time the country is facing numerous problems that include a debilitating liquidity crunch, massive retrenchments and a shrinking tax base.
The TNF is a social dialogue platform that brings together government, business and labour to negotiate key socio-economic matters. It has existed since 1998 as a voluntary and unlegislated chamber in which socio-economic matters are discussed and negotiated by the social partners.
The need to revive the platform comes at a time the economy is in deep recession characterised by a severe liquidity crunch and job losses as a result of company closures and retrenchments. Insiders at the Retrenchment Board revealed that they deal with a minimum of 100 and a maximum of 400 retrenchments weekly as the economy continues to implode.
This has led to a weakened tax base for government which probably explains the continued shift in pay dates for civil servants, a development that has sparked fears that this could lead to government not only failing to pay bonuses this year, but failing to pay salaries altogether.
Industrial capacity utilisation is below 40% with some sectors such as the textile industry operating at only 10% capacity. These are all indications of an economy under siege.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary general Japhet Moyo told businessdigest this week that government, which chairs the TNF, indicated to business and labour representatives that there was need to revive the TNF.
"Government indicated to us that once the (International Labour Organisation) conference is over, the intention is for government to make sure that the TNF is resuscitated," Moyo said.
He said they are plans by government to legislate the TNF to ensure that the decisions which are made within the forum are legally binding.
Moyo said the TNF was necessary adding it gives the social partners a platform to interact. He pointed out the Kadoma Declaration as an example of the benefits of the forum.
The Kadoma Declaration was drafted after negotiations held in Kadoma by the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) in 2001. The declaration identified the causes of Zimbabwe's high country risk factor and suggested measures by the three social partners -- government, labour and business -- to deal with the risk and improve the country's image.
Moyo said the TNF could be used to come up with an economic blueprint that will attract investors.
He said this did not necessarily mean doing away with the Zanu PF economic blueprint the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio Economic Transformation (ZimAsset).
Moyo said ZimAsset, which did not have the input of various stakeholders and derived from Zanu PF's political manifesto, could be discussed with variations made to the document to ensure ownership of the document by all stakeholders.
Moyo said the last time they had met under the auspices of the TNF was at the onset of the inclusive government in 2009 when Paurina Mpariwa of the MDCT was appointed labour minister.
He said the most important issue was the imploding labour market coupled with the continued shrinking of the formal employment base.
"The priority for labour now is how we can create more jobs," Moyo said.
The TNF however could face several obstacles such as the issue of wages. Workers have been advocating for a minimum wage linked to the Poverty Datum Line which currently stands at US$540, a stance vigorously resisted by employers who feel it is not feasible due to low productivity. The planned controversial labour laws amendments that will make it easier to fire workers among other issues, could be another bone of contention pitting labour against business and government.
However legal practitioner and arbitrator Johnlife Mawire says the days of confrontation among the three partners should be over.
"Let us stop the blame game and be forward looking," said Mawire, who has dealt with labour issues for more than 20 years. "The blame game does not take us anywhere. The environment dictates that they (social partners) sit down and talk."
He said the resumption of the TNF was a step in the right direction especially at a time the country was confronted with "severe economic challenges."
Mawire said there was a need to address various issues including labour law amendments and how to deal with retrenchments.
He added that the focus should be not only the retrenchment process itself but the period before and after the exercise. This, Mawire said, will help cushion the lives of retrenchees.